Helping families in Zambia cope with a health crisis

We’re working with an insurtech startup to expand insurance in Zambia through data-driven product development

When a family member falls ill, especially a breadwinner, the unexpected costs can tip the family finances from coping to crisis. Insurance can help families manage and recover from shocks — a key indicator of financial health. However, according to the 2015 Finscope, only 2.8 percent of adults in Zambia are insured.

To combat this problem, we’re supporting a Zambian insurtech startup to develop and pilot a new digitally delivered microinsurance product. This work is part of a multi-year project focused on Data Management and Analytical Capability (DMAC). One of the primary goals of the DMAC project is to develop financial service providers’ capacity to leverage data strategically so they can develop innovative and inclusive products that respond to the needs of unserved and underserved adults. One such product is a mobile-based hospital cash plan in Zambia.

When this product launches, mobile money subscribers will be able to pick a plan and pay the premiums straight from their mobile money account. If they or a family member falls ill and is admitted to the hospital, they can initiate a claim. They’ll receive a mobile money payout directly to their wallet for each day spent in the hospital. This fast, flexible cash benefit can be used to pay for whatever the family needs to make ends meet. It also saves the family from falling prey to exorbitant rates for small short-term loans from moneylenders or others.

To develop this product, the insurtech startup partnered with a national Mobile Network Operator (MNO) as part of their data strategy to use alternative data — such as mobile KYC and mobile money transaction data — for customer acquisition and underwriting. Following a data-driven product development methodology, we helped the insurtech map out the data inflows and outflows that the new hospital cash plan will generate. This exercise informed the operational processes and technical requirements needed to support product delivery. For example, the insurtech pinpointed the minimum set of data fields required in the mobile phone menu that the MNO database would need sent to their backend system through their Application Programming Interface (API) for underwriting. They also identified the critical success metrics to measure and track customer usage and satisfaction with the product experience through customized analytics dashboards. This evaluation process will enable a data-driven feedback loop for continuous product improvements.

This experience has underscored that an organization’s ability to strategically leverage big data and build data-driven products depends on identifying and implementing the appropriate mix of staff skills, tech, and operational systems. Strategic partnerships make it possible to meet these business objectives. In Zambia, for example, the insurtech would not be able to digitally acquire and underwrite new customers without the backend insurance administration and reporting systems they’ve developed, an in-house data analyst supported by a local firm specializing in data collection and management, and a strong partnership with the MNO.

Today, there are very few microinsurance plans available to low-income segments in Zambia.  As we prepare for the pilot launch of this new product, we’re hopeful that it can help make insurance more inclusive. Once the tool is live, the dashboards built will be used to track customer usage and experience and enable refinements. This data-driven product has the potential to insure people in Zambia who’ve never had quality insurance, helping them find new resilience in the face of a health crisis. As the Economist recently reported, the poor, who most need insurance, are least likely to have it. But mobile phones and innovative fintech, like the projects we’re working on with DMAC, can make a difference.


Data Management and Analytics Capabilities (DMAC) is a two-year program that uses data-driven evidence to help Financial Service Providers (FSPs) in sub-Saharan Africa to designing inclusive and affordable financial products and services that respond to the needs of unserved and underserved adults, with a particular focus on women and youth.

Initiated by Financial Sector Deepening Africa (FSD Africa) and International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in partnership with FSDT and FSDZ, it’s being implemented by Oxford Policy Management (OPM), in collaboration with Accion’s Global Advisory Solutions and Master Data Management (MDM).

The program is operating across three different markets of varying digital maturity — Sierra Leone, Zambia, and Tanzania — and with three different types of FSPs: insurers, fintechs, and commercial banks.

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